PhD: Poltiical Parties that use Social Divides Strategically Succeed


Today, on April 20, Tõnis Saarts from the Tallinn University School of Governance, Law and Society will defend his Doctoral Thesis, which focused on the effect of social divides and core conflicts to the formation and system of political parties in the Baltic States. The thesis shows that the societal structure, demographic patterns and historical background of the states largely sculpt the party system.

“A sociological approach and the patterns in social divides successfully explain the formation and peculiarity of political party systems in the Baltic States,” said Tõnis Saarts. “It can explain why in Lithuania, communist successor parties (leftist parties based on the former communist party) prevailed and why they are still so influential in Lithuania. At the same time, in Latvia and Estonia, the left niche has been occupied by parties with support from the Russian minority,” he explained.

The sociological approach also allows us to look for the reasons why some parties decay while others prosper and remain in spite of large internal crises. “The extensive case study concerning the Estonian Keskerakond (the Central Party), Rahvaliit (People’s Party) and Res Publica showed that their ability to connect to social divides and core conflicts, and use them to their own benefit, is an important factor which largely explains why some parties succeed while others don’t,” Saarts added.

The thesis shows that the divides that give form to the current Baltic party politics have deep historic roots – extra attention should be paid to the influence of the communist era. The ethnic-colonial communist legacy explains why in Estonia and Latvia there is an ethnic divide with a strong connection to history (i.e. the attitude toward the soviet past). At the same time, it explains why Estonia and Latvia are the only countries in Eastern and Central Europe without communist successor parties, and the party system still has no clear balance between the left and the right wings.

In its conclusion, the thesis states that in order to understand the party systems and their function in the Baltic states (as well as other countries), we must at first look at the societies, their formation and the important tension points within them.

The Doctoral Thesis “The Sociological Approach in Party System Analysis: The Baltic States in the Central and Eastern European Context” will be defended on 20 April at 14:00 at the Tallinn University room M-648 (Uus-Sadama st. 5). The thesis was supervised by Professor Leif Kalev from Tallinn University. The opponents are Professor Rein Ruutsoo from Tallinn University and Professor Paul G. Lewis from the Open University UK.

The thesis can be accessed via the Tallinn University Academic Library E-vault ETERA.